There has been a lot of extreme weather this summer. In July alone, which scientists say was the hottest ever recorded on Earth, the United States dealt with intense wildfire smoke in multiple cities, a blistering heat wave in the Southwest, and the destructive flooding that damaged thousands of homes and businesses throughout Vermont and Western Massachusetts.

With climate change's deadly impacts already upon us, it's easy to be concerned about the resiliency and future of a city like Boston, which appears particularly at risk from the threat posed by rising sea levels and more frequent, powerful storms. To address these challenges, the city produced a report in 2016, which later evolved into Climate Ready Boston, an initiative meant to prepare the city for the impacts of climate change.

Hannah Wagner, a climate resiliency project manager for the city's environment department, says a primary concern of the initiative has been to address flooding concerns brought on by both rising sea levels and more intense coastal storm events.

"As of 2022, we have completed plans for coastal resilience for Boston's entire 47-mile coastline," Wagner told GBH's All Things Considered. "We've really focused on taking a neighborhood-level approach and done a neighborhood by neighborhood planning process to figure out ways that we can manage coastal flooding and its impacts in the future."

Those estimated impacts have potential for a lot of damage to the city's low-lying neighborhoods. According to Wagner, over the course of the 20th century, sea levels rose about 9 inches relative to the previous levels. By 2050, sea levels may be as much as 1.5 feet higher than they were in 2000, and by 2070, they may be as much as 3 feet higher than in 2000.

Arial view of recently completed reconstruction of the North End's Lagone Park.
January 2021 marked the completion of a comprehensive reconstruction and upgrade of this park on the waterfront in the North End. The park is designed with climate resilient features to protect the shoreline, the neighborhood, and other public assets from projected sea level rise and increased storm events.
Courtesy of Kathleen Hart

Wagner says the city's most vulnerable neighborhoods, and the focus of much of Climate Ready Boston's resiliency efforts, are the coastal neighborhoods of East Boston, Charlestown, Dorchester, Downtown, the North End and South Boston. Part of this is due to the city's history of landfill infrastructure projects that pushed the Boston's waterfront further out into the sea.

"Because this filled land is at a lower elevation than the surrounding areas that were once islands or more upland areas, many of our coastal neighborhoods are now vulnerable to coastal flooding in these filled areas," she said. "That's because when coastal storms and extreme high tides occur, water naturally flows to those lowest lying areas. So we have a particular challenge in trying to adapt, protect and make resilient the coastal neighborhoods that really make the city what it is."

One of the most critical aspects of these resiliency efforts has been community involvement. With this valuable feedback, plans for coastal resilience investments have gone beyond protecting the land from flooding, but also include measures for additional amenities.

Image showing a bird's eye view rendering of future Moakley Park improvements.
A proposed redesign of Moakley Park in South Boston.
Courtesy of Kathleen Hart

Wagner pointed to the redesign process of Moakley Park in the South Boston and Dorchester area as an example of climate resiliency and community priorities coming together. The park's redesign not only addressed critically needed stormwater management systems, but also improved the park's recreational areas.

Wagner said residents appreciate the value in that multi-factored approach.

"They're excited about these projects and they want to see projects that provide not only flood protection or relief from extreme heat, but also provide either improved transportation benefits or increased access to the waterfront or open space," she said. "There's really an opportunity here to work together within communities and both provide risk reduction and resilience to climate change, but also additional benefits as we go."